Same-sex couples in Europe: more rights in more countries

Press release Published on 25 April 2017

The trend of legal recognition for gay and lesbian couples is broadening. More and more rights are becoming available to same-sex partners – in more and more European countries. Leiden Law School and French Institute for Demographic Studies publish detailed database and comparative analysis. 

Growing consensus
Across the European Union, almost all countries now agree that same-sex partners should be legally protected – at the very least when one of them dies, or in case of illness, accident or violence. A similar large majority of countries agree that same-sex partners should be allowed to live in the same country. These are the main findings of the research led by Kees Waaldijk, Leiden University’s professor of comparative sexual orientation law. Parenting rights remain more controversial. But already a majority of EU countries allow children to be adopted by the same-sex partner of their mother or father.

Progress across Europe
Same-sex marriages or registered partnerships are now legal in 21 of the 28 member states of the EU (up from only 10 in 2005). This is now also true for a majority of the 47 countries in the Council of Europe. Since recently, Greece and Italy allow same-sex couples to register as partners, while Ireland and Finland now allow them to marry. Meanwhile, Portugal and Austria started to allow adoptions by same-sex partners. In Germany and Slovenia (and to a lesser degree in the Czech Republic) the legal consequences of same-sex registered partnership have become more similar to those of different-sex marriage. And also in Poland and Bulgaria, same-sex couples are beginning to get some legal recognition.

LawsAndFamilies Database
All this and much more (such as the slowly growing recognition of different-sex cohabitation) has now been documented in the LawsAndFamilies Database. This new interactive database covers 60 legal aspects of marriage, partnership and cohabitation over the last 50 years for same-sex and different-sex couples in more than 20 countries. It has been created by a team of legal experts, led by Kees Waaldijk at Leiden Law School, together with a team of demographers and sociologists led by Marie Digoix at Ined in Paris. A comparative analysis of this great collection of data is being published today under the title: More and more together – Legal family formats for same-sex and different-sex couples in European countries.

The French Institute for Demographic Studies In was responsible for the technical aspects of this EU-funded project. Ined researchers have also coordinated the collection and analysis of qualitative interviews with same-sex families in four countries, and of statistics on same-sex marriages and registered partnerships in twelve countries. These data and analyses are now also available in the LawsAndFamilies Database – in open access.

European courts
Professor Kees Waaldijk concludes: ‘This growing European consensus can help the European Court of Human Rights in deciding which legal protections should – at the very least – be made available to same-sex couples in all 47 Council of Europe countries. And the Court of Justice of the European Union could build on this clear trend, by ruling that all 28 EU countries now must recognize same-sex marriages from other member states – at least in the context of free movement and immigration.’


Launch of the database on April 25th.

Links in press release and on website:
The LawsAndFamilies Database – Aspects of legal family formats for same-sex and different-sex couples: [this webaddress should remain visible]

Kees Waaldijk (ed.), ‘More and more together: Legal family formats for same-sex and different-sex couples in European countries – Comparative analysis of data in the LawsAndFamilies Database’, FamiliesAndSocieties Working Paper 75(2017),  [this webaddress should remain visible]

Links only on website:
FamiliesAndSocieties – Changing families and sustainable societies: Policy contexts and diversity over the life course and across generations (research project in the EU Seventh Framework Programme)

Summer School on Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity in International Law (The Hague & Amsterdam, 31 July – 4 August 2017) 

Effective protection of fundamental rights in a pluralist world (research programme of Leiden Law School)
Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies (Leiden Law School’s department of public international law)

The research leading to these results from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement no. 320116 for the research project: FamiliesAndSocieties – Changing families and sustainable societies: Policy contexts and diversity over the life course and across generations.

Link to the Leiden’s University  web site